One thing that I've wondered about in the past few years, and you might have wondered it too, is this: why isn't Eric Cantor Speaker of the House right now? I don't ask this question longingly, by the way. But it is a real question. Cantor is ambitious and doesn't wait his turn–he got his current gig after muscling out Roy Blunt as the #2 Republican in the House, ending the latter's House career and persuading him to run for the Senate immediately. Cantor, by all accounts, is more popular among House Republicans and holds more authority, while John Boehner has stumbled through the last two years, frequently losing votes and going back on promises because he can't deliver his party. You have to assume that if Cantor wanted the job, he'd have it. And I don't really think his utmost ambition is to be House Majority Leader. So the question is, what is he waiting for?

Since he's one of the least enlightening interview subjects ever–every interview he's ever given is like this one, the same aggressive talking point blather–we have to extrapolate this a bit. But I think the answer to this is obvious when you ask the question: he's waiting for a Republican President. Cantor has a lot of authority among House Republicans, a lot of power. Nobody denies that. But you have to consider the source of that power: Cantor has it because he's free not to have to compromise and make deals with the Obama Administration, which would have to be the quickest path to RINOdom. Of course, someone has to make those deals, but Cantor would rather Boehner take the heat while he stays relatively pure, safe in the knowledge that the existence of those deals seals Boehner’s fate any damn time he likes. Cantor doesn’t want to spend the next four years working with the Obama Administration, which would probably leave him in a position to get tossed in favor of a Tea Party challenge. And he's undermined Boehner on more than one occasion, most notably during the debt ceiling debacle, presumably so that Boehner is never regarded as a strong leader in his own right. Makes him easier to push aside when the time comes.

My guess is that Cantor does want to be Speaker, but he wants to be Speaker when President Paul Ryan is inaugurated and Mitch McConnell becomes Senate Majority Leader, and he wants to be the one to push the Ryan Budget through the House when that occurs. And let's not pretend that wouldn't be a huge lift. Yes, virtually every Republican voted for the Ryan Budget, as though they had a choice. But since it had no chance of becoming law, the entire exercise was symbolic and everyone knew it. It was sort of like how every Senate Democrat voted for EFCA when they were in the minority, but as soon as it came time to discuss actually enacting it in 2009, suddenly the Arkansas delegation became squeamish about pissing off Wal-Mart by expanding union organizing rights. And they were hardly the only ones. The Ryan Budget was, mainly, an attempt to reintroduce the party to its base after the Bush years, but when Republicans eventually regain power there will be a strong inclination not to spend immense amounts of political capital on a budget that doesn't actually reduce the deficit, but does essentially smash every popular government program there is. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor had to worry about interests in their state, and so will Republicans have to worry about interests in their districts that might be effected if this shit gets real. Cantor, as a true believer, would want to be the one to ensure it gets enacted. Or so the theory goes, but it's just about the only one that fits the facts. Of course, if Hillary Clinton wins in 2016 and House Republicans still have a narrow majority, Cantor might decide to hell with it and take the top job anyway, who knows. But putting through the Ryan Plan seems to be what his entire House career is building toward.


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